The parents of 28-year-old Crissita Cage-Toaster said they gave police a detailed description of their daughter — including of a large rose tattoo on her shoulder that included her parents' nicknames — when they reported her missing in October 2009. Detroit police had discovered the woman's abandoned car, with her purse, ID and cellphone inside, on a large island park east of downtown.
"From that day on, I've been searching for her," said her mother, Rosita Cage-Toaster. "If they would have listened to me back in 2009, they could have then discovered my daughter."
Local officials notified her parents this week of plans to exhume the body, which was buried with other unidentified remains at a cemetery west of Detroit about a year after it was discovered. The parents said Detroit police were negligent in their initial investigation.
Cage-Toaster, who lives in Atlanta, periodically checked in with Detroit detectives in the years after the case went cold. Then in April, she reached out to the National Institute of Justice, which maintains a public database of unidentified remains and missing persons. The database includes details like tattoos.
Cage-Toaster urged the organization to focus on her daughter's tattoo. She said that's when the organization contacted Detroit police, who later made the connection between a body found in the Detroit River in 2010 and the case of Cage-Toaster's missing daughter.
Cage-Toaster said Detroit police called her in late September, telling her officers had found her daughter's body about five months after she was reported missing. She said the coroner performed a cursory death investigation, but that a cause of death wasn't determined.
Police said part of the reason the body wasn't identified was because the Wayne County Medical Examiner's Office and Detroit police records listed her ethnicity as Caucasian or Hispanic. She was black.
"Her body had been in the river all of that time," said Lt. Kenneth Gardner. "The complexion and things of that ... undergoes a change. It's hard to elaborate on that."
Gardner said it's unclear why police didn't make the connection using the woman's tattoo years ago, but added: "What I can say is that the team we have in place today, they were able to make a turnaround in 24 hours and connect the dots."
Cage-Toaster said police's explanation doesn't make sense.
"There's so many inconsistencies," she said. "This seems like, to me, you could give this to an elementary school student and they could figure out the puzzle. And they're supposed to be professionals."
The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System database said there are currently over 14,000 unidentified remains nationwide, nearly 300 of which are in Michigan.